Walking through the Louvre for the first time I am reminded that artists have always used scale to impress. I am confronted by the physicality of paintings I have known all my life as reproductions. Delacroix’s Liberty in all its tour de force towers over us taking the gallery by storm. It is then delightful to find that the Mona Lisa, one of the most famous images in the world, is quite diminutive.
“Did you find any fingerprints?” Patrick asked as I climbed the steps of his stone front porch. I was returning the two Native American pots he had allowed me to borrow to photograph, sketch and really just hold. He must have known, while I studied the pots, I would also be looking for such impressions, evidence of the one who made these Late Woodlands vessels, perhaps 1,000 years old.
Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in another person’s place, seeing a situation from their point of view. According to Dr. Brene Brown, “The empathetic person will recognize the person’s struggle without minimizing it.” In contrast, sympathy moves us emotionally, but from a distance. The work of Raven Halfmoon and the story of the Caddo Nation move me to want to truly understand her struggle and that of her people, if that is even possible. That struggle has been minimized for so long and by so many, that we must want to know, to seek it out and recognize it, and to feel it, if we are to empathize.
Theaster Gates first began to draw widespread attention for his transformation of a derelict block in South Chicago into a community-service center including a library, which might seem surprising for an artist who began − and continues − in ceramics. He delivered a much-admired keynote lecture at the NCECA conference in Milwaukee a few years ago, and more recently his solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis included a large gallery lined with wooden shelves on which was displayed an impressive collection of his own pots, some Japanese-influenced, all handsome and straightforward. That archival emphasis was also present in other rooms of the exhibition, one with a collection of racist memorabilia, another a re-creation of the Chicago headquarters of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony, the noted magazine of Black culture − an installation that touched on mid-century design but emphasized the power and historical depth of African sculpture and Black imagery.